Rolling Stones Musical evolution
The Rolling Stones are notable in modern popular music for assimilating various musical genres into their recording and performance, ultimately making the styles their very own. The band’s career is marked by a continual reference and reliance on musical styles like American blues, country, folk, reggae, dance; world music exemplified by the Master Musicians of Jajouka; as well as traditional English styles that use stringed instrumentation like harps. The band cut their musical teeth by covering early rock and roll and blues songs, and have never stopped playing live or recording cover songs.
Infusion of American blues
Jagger and Richards shared an admiration of Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and Little Walter, and their interest influenced Brian Jones, of whom Richards says, “He was more into T-Bone Walker and jazz-blues stuff. We’d turn him onto Chuck Berry and say, ‘Look, it’s all the same shit, man, and you can do it.'”Charlie Watts, a traditional jazz drummer, was also turned onto the blues after his introduction to the Stones. “Keith and Brian turned me on to Jimmy Reed and people like that. I learned that Earl Phillips was playing on those records like a jazz drummer, playing swing, with a straight four…”
Jagger, recalling when he first heard the likes of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Fats Domino and other major American R&B artists, said it “seemed the most real thing” he had heard up to that point. Similarly, Keith Richards, describing the first time he listened to Muddy Waters, said it was the “most powerful music [he had] ever heard…the most expressive.”
Despite the Rolling Stones’ predilection for blues and R&B numbers on their early live setlists, the first original compositions by the band reflected a more wide-ranging interest. The first Jagger/Richards single, “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back),” is called by critic Richie Unterberger a “pop/rock ballad… When [Jagger and Richards] began to write songs, they were usually not derived from the blues, but were often surprisingly fey, slow, Mersey-type pop numbers.” “As Tears Go By,” the ballad originally written for Marianne Faithfull, was one of the first songs written by Jagger and Richards and also one of many written by the duo for other artists. Jagger said of the song, “It’s a relatively mature song considering the rest of the output at the time. And we didn’t think of [recording] it, because the Rolling Stones were a butch blues group.” The Stones did later record a version which became a top five hit in the US.
On the early experience, Richards said, “The amazing thing is that although Mick and I thought these songs were really puerile and kindergarten-time, every one that got put out made a decent showing in the charts. That gave us extraordinary confidence to carry on, because at the beginning songwriting was something we were going to do in order to say to Andrew [Loog Oldham], ‘Well, at least we gave it a try…'” Jagger said, “We were very pop-orientated. We didn’t sit around listening to Muddy Waters; we listened to everything. In some ways it’s easy to write to order… Keith and I got into the groove of writing those kind of tunes; they were done in ten minutes. I think we thought it was a bit of a laugh, and it turned out to be something of an apprenticeship for us.”
The writing of the single “The Last Time,” The Rolling Stones’ first major single, proved a turning point. Richards called it “a bridge into thinking about writing for The Stones. It gave us a level of confidence; a pathway of how to do it.” Built around a riff played by Brian Jones, the song was based on a traditional gospel song popularised by The Staples Singers and would be emblematic of the heavily guitar based sound to come.